President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on February 11. It was markedly different from previous SONAs. The parliamentary precinct was empty, there was no red carpet, no 21-gun salute and guard parade. But the speech was perhaps more important as the country struggles with the pandemic, corruption, poverty and inequality. These were the priorities Ramaphosa mentioned during the 2021 SONA.
Ramaphosa opened his speech saying: “We, the people of South Africa, have over the past year experienced a terrible hardship. Like a wildfire that sweeps across the mountainous ranges where the fynbos grows, a deadly pandemic has swept across the world, leaving devastation in its path. And yet, like the hardy fynbos of our native land, we too have proven to be resilient in many ways.”
He focused on four main priorities. “This evening, we stand here not to make promises but to report on progress in the implementation of the recovery plan and the priority actions we must now take to restore growth and create jobs,” said Ramaphosa.
Defeat the coronavirus pandemic
Over 40 000 thousand people are recorded to have lost their lives to the pandemic less than a year after the first case was reported in March 2020. There have been over 1,48 million cases reported. The pandemic has devastated South Africa’s health system and economy. Ramaphosa said: “We must do everything in our means to contain and overcome this pandemic. This means intensifying our prevention efforts and strengthening our health system.” He briefly outlined the changed vaccination plans and said the country is getting ready for the mass vaccination drive.
“As we have overcome before, we will overcome again and rise. But it is not just this disease that we must defeat,” said Ramaphosa.
Accelerate our economic recovery
The main focus of the speech was on the much-needed economic recovery plan for the country. Ramaphosa outlined the plans for the massive rollout of infrastructure throughout the country and a massive increase in local production. He gave the plan on an employment stimulus to create jobs and support livelihoods and the rapid expansion of energy generation capacity.
According to Ramaphosa, the pandemic which forced the closure of global value chains helped speed up the larger market for small businesses. Ramaphosa encouraged people to buy local saying that will lead to greater employment. “More workers will be employed in the factories,” said Ramaphosa.
He briefly mentioned the African Continental Free Trade Area, which came into operation on January 1 saying South Africa would begin to harness those opportunities.
Most importantly he announced that government has decided to extend the period for the Special COVID-19 Grant of R350 by a further three months.
Drive inclusive growth by implementing economic reforms to create sustainable jobs
Ramaphosa said: “Our unemployment rate now stands at a staggering 30.8%.” He said the largest numbers of jobs will be created by the private sector in a number of industries as the economy recovers. Ramaphosa said the Presidential Employment Stimulus is one of the most significant expansions of public and social employment in South Africa’s history.
Fight corruption and strengthen the weakened state
“Restoring Eskom to operational and financial health and accelerating its restructuring process is central to this objective,” said Ramaphosa. Eskom has been devastated by state capture and corruption of the years leaving South Africans in the dark with loadshedding.
With regards to fighting corruption, Ramaphosa said overarching legislation for state-owned companies will be tabled in cabinet this financial year and Parliament in the next financial year.
“Corruption is one of the greatest impediments to the country’s growth and development,” said Ramaphosa. He said they will be implementing the National Anti-Corruption Strategy, which lays the basis for a comprehensive and integrated society-wide response to corruption. The government will also be appointing the members of the National Anti-Corruption Advisory Council.
The president spoke of climate change saying that the presidential coordinating commission on climate change, which is meeting for the first time this month will work on a plan for a just transition to a low-carbon economy and climate resilient society.
On gender-based violence, Ramaphosa said: “Ending gender-based violence is imperative if we lay claim to being a society rooted in equality and non-sexism.” He said GBV will only end when everyone takes responsibility for doing so in their homes, in their communities, in their workplaces, in their places of worship and in their schools.
“People of South Africa, it is your country that calls on you to rise. Let us march forward together to equality, to dignity and to recovery.”